Communities hold the key for smaller housing sites

Tuesday 29 May 2018

Londoners are getting more demanding about not just the percentage of affordable homes in proposed developments, but also the types, the viability plan and the general definition of what constitutes ‘affordable’ anyway. But the industry needs to get better at showing what growth looks like to get communities on side, and not be too concerned with the ‘numbers game’ if it is detrimental to quality.

Those were some of the key issues raised at the NLA’s bi-annual Housing Update last week as it looked at the contribution that could be made through attending to density and small sites.

Deputy mayor James Murray said that he felt that having visited boroughs with new mayors just after the election – notably Newham, Lewisham and Waltham Forest – he had been excited to have witnessed ‘real ambition’. ‘Councils will play a crucial role in the next four years in delivering homes’, said Murray, ‘particularly at high density’. 

Murray said that it was ‘possible to build the homes we need in London’, even with the ambitious target of 65,000 needed each year as set out in the draft New London Plan, and without building on the Green Belt. But that needed a new way of thinking about density and bringing forward sites, which he aimed to ease by bringing out new supplementary design guidance later this year. This will focus on small sites and typologies – ‘We need to start showing Londoners, with pictures and designs, what high density looks like’, said Murray. ‘I really do mean it when I say this is a collective effort.’  Small sites can change the way we think about capacity in London, but it was essential to gain Londoners’ consent for what we’re planning to do’, he went on. Although the elections had helped show that Londoners are being more demanding on development, asking for definitions of affordable housing, the case for developments will be improved by concentrating on infrastructure, design (‘crucial for winning Londoners’ support, particularly on small sites) and affordable housing.

Levitt Bernstein head of Housing Research and a mayoral design adviser Julia Park said it was clear that the new London Plan ‘means business’ when it comes to density, but that optimising sites was not the same as maximising them in all cases. ‘The pressure is really on. We have to keep a level head and remember how many good homes we can build, not just how many homes.’

Other speakers included Bexley chief executive Gill Steward, who stressed the importance of taking the local community with them in the borough’s quest to build 31,000 new homes – the equivalent of growing by a third again. Bexley has created a new development company headed by Rick Blakeway to ‘disrupt the market’ and lead this charge and set aside £700m for land acquisition. But again, careful development that preserves heritage and history was crucial. ‘We need to be really clear about what people are getting’. TfL head of property development Peter Elliott showed how his organisation is ‘bringing the pounds and pence back’ in non-fare revenue like property development, with his department having grown from five people three years ago to 75 today. ‘The potential of TfL land is vast’. And although there was some scepticism around the kinds of numbers needed – particularly from GL Hearn head of planning Stuart Baillie on the 37% of the annual target that should come from small sites, there was also optimism from people like Riëtte Oosthuizen, Partner, Planning, HTA, who presented the case for intensifying development in the suburbs, especially around 173 station sites that could be developed without chnaging character. Bptw Partnership partner Neil Campbell described his practice’s ‘traffic light’ assessment of sites in boroughs, while Ilke Homes partnership director Neil McArthur showed his company’s plans for its factory, capable of building 2,000 homes per year, and delivering 350 this year. But the firm was being hampered by frameworks, which have taken no cognizance of modern methods of construction. ‘There are thousands of sites available’, he said. ‘We must be able to access these’

By David Taylor, Editor, NLQ
@davidntaylor

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